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Lessons From a 25-Foot Telephone Pole [Day 20 – 30 Days to Changing Your Game]


This is Day 20 of 30 Days to Changing Your Game. Yesterday Marie Forleo made us think with here how-not-to-change-your-game checklist. Today my very good friend Elizabeth Marshall talks about how powerful it is to DECIDE!

Lessons From a 25 Foot Telephone Pole

by Elizabeth Marshall (@LizMarshall)

“It’s a DECISION, not a process, Elizabeth.”

The words of coach, Andrea J Lee, hit me squarely in the chest.  I didn’t want to hear it, but I knew that she was right.

Although I wanted to pretend like I didn’t hear her and continue talking about the details and elements I needed to launch my new workshop for aspiring authors and messengers and about the best marketing plan for my group program, I fell silent.

After a long pause, Andrea reminded me of the conversation we’d had in the previous session – about the fact that I had been approaching my business with the “I’m playing not to lose” mentality.  Even though I felt good about all the many remarkable authors I’ve come to know and help through and the private work I’ve done with messengers, she spoke the truth.  I had been holding back and playing it safe.  In my heart, I’ve known that I am capable of playing a bigger game and of being BOLDER with my personal brand and with what I stand for.

As a result of that earlier conversation, I made a decision to stop hiding.  On that call, I decided it was time for me to “play to win” and to build a bigger, more purposeful in 2010.

Well, at least I thought I had decided…

But, truth be told, I was still standing on top of the pole…waiting for the right moment to take the leap.

See, I had already learned this lesson – it was just one that I had conveniently managed to “forget.”  But, when I heard Andrea’s words, I immediately went back to that hot summer in college when I worked as a counselor for a kid’s adventure camp…and to that experience I will never again allow myself to forget.

It happened during “Work Week.”  It was during the week when all of the counselors arrived at camp several days early to prepare the cabins, get trained and to experience all the activities we had planned for our campers.

One of those activities we “tested” out that week was called the Ropes Course.  Sometimes called a Challenge Course, a Ropes Course consists of a series of challenging outdoor activities and exercises designed for the purposes of team building and personal development.  In case you haven’t experienced a course like this before, let’s just say that we’re not talking about a casual “stroll through the forest.”  Many of the elements on the course take place 25 feet in the air and require the use of utility (telephone) poles and tall trees. Although it may sound dangerous, there’s plenty of safety measures, such as belay lines, harnesses, carabiners, helmets and other tools to prevent falls and to help participants “feel safe” while they’re going through each element of the course.

Except, for most people, that feeling of safety goes out the window when you start climbing up the first 25-foot pole or incredibly tall tree.

That was my experience as I climbed to the top of the Pamper Pole.

At a first glance, it seemed simple enough.  All I had to do was to climb to the top of the 25-foot telephone pole (using the iron “steps” sticking out of the pole), stand up on the top of the pole with both feet and then jump to grab the trapeze suspended about 10 feet in front of the pole.

How bad could it really be?

After all, I completed all 10 other elements relatively quickly without fear getting the best of me…so surely, I could handle this one!

In a word, it was awful.  In fact, my palms start sweating even when I think about the fears and emotions I felt while attempting to stand up on that 8-inch surface…one that couldn’t possibly be big enough for both of my size 8.5 tennis shoes, right?

Despite a fairly quick ascent to the top of the pole, I spent what seemed like an eternity “trying” to stand up on the top of that pole in order to jump out to the trapeze.  I felt frozen by fear and unable to take control of what I was feeling and experiencing.  But, since I didn’t want to let the team down, I continued to attempt what felt beyond my reach.

With one foot on top of the pole, I used every strategy I could think of to help be do what I didn’t feel like I could do.  I “thought through” the best way to place my second foot on the top of the pole; I brainstormed and “talked it out” with my supportive team cheering me on from the ground below; I planned and processed through the remaining moves I needed to make; and, I waited for the “right” moment and ideal time to stand and jump.

That moment never came.  So, I eventually chose to climb back down the pole instead of making the jump – a decision I regret even to this day.

In retrospect, I can see it clearly.  My approach was wrong…and I allowed my fears to overshadow the truth that I already knew deep down in my gut:

It’s a decision – not a process.

Completing the “Leap of Faith” exercise that day required one thing – my decision to make it so.  Without that definitive declaration, all of my efforts to plan, process, calculate, strategize or think it through didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

I simply needed to choose…and DECIDE to make the leap.

And, that’s exactly what Andrea was trying to tell me that December day, just a few days before the holiday break.

With that one statement, she was challenging me to:

  • JUMP off that pole and to reach for the trapeze
  • DECIDE in that moment – without condition or reservation – that I would play to win, no matter the outcome
  • CHANGE MY GAME, even though I had no road map, no guarantees or no clear sense of how I would do that

So, I jumped off the pole.  And now, I’m inviting you to do the same.

Now, I don’t believe in sugar-coating the truth, so I am going to be honest about what’s happened since then.  It’s been an extremely challenging four weeks since I DECIDED to play to win and to take the leap.  I’ve felt fears, doubts and worries like you wouldn’t believe, I’ve shed a good amount of tears, and I’ve done some serious digging to find the courage and strength I need to continue living out my choice.

And, this is just the beginning…

Although it hasn’t been easy, I can tell you that it feels MUCH BETTER than choosing to stay stuck or to keep waiting for the “right moment” (the one that never comes) before you decide to act.

So, I invite you to take a look.  Step away from the computer and go to a quiet place for a few moments.  In that space, closely examine business and life to see if there are any areas, big or small, where you’re “stuck on top of the pole” or paralyzed by indecision.

What do you see in your business?

Are you telling a safe, “politically correct” version of your message?  Or, settling for a lukewarm, toned-down personal brand?  Are you putting off writing that book you KNOW you’re meant to write?  Or, playing it safe by offering the same products and services as everyone else?

And, what about your life?

Are you settling for less than you know you deserve? Are you avoiding hard conversations and decisions so you don’t have to rock the boat?  Or, are you putting others first at the expense of your own health and happiness?

Now, that you’ve taken a look, can you identify just ONE aspect of your business or life, big or small, where you can take the leap and DECIDE to move forward?

If you need some encouragement or reassurance before deciding to jump, perhaps you’ll find comfort in these words from Patrick Overton:

“When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.”

But, if you’re ready…

I’ll be standing right here at the bottom of the pole to cheer you on and to hold the belay line when you take the leap of faith and JUMP!

Elizabeth Marshall is the host and founder of, where she has designed virtual book tours for many bestselling authors, such as Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Keith Ferrazzi, Michael Port and many others.  Through her Spread Your Message group program and her private coaching, she’s helped hundreds of authors spread their message and sell their books and connect with thousands of new followers and fans.

A published author, Elizabeth wrote The Contrarian Effect with NY Times bestselling author, Michael Port, which won two awards: Amazon’s Best of 2008 Top Ten Business Book and 800-CEO-READs Best Sales Book for 2008.

You can learn more about Elizabeth by going to and

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